Friday, July 24, 2015

A long, long time ago, the first time I ever visited a cloistered monastery of nuns, the abbess who was leading our retreat told us to let our minds sit gently on the words of the psalms as they were being chanted in the Office. Don't try to grip it too tightly, that is force yourself to concentrate too hard, but let our minds take it in easily, like a cool breeze. She said that at some point during the retreat a phrase or verse might start to occupy our thoughts, and this was what was usually meant by allowing God to "speak to your heart".

Naturally, being young keeners, we three girls enthusiastically set about concentrating very hard on energetically allowing our minds to "float gently," which makes me smile now.

But Dom Calvet, (who once wrote an encouraging note to me) says here that this good abbess was quite right, and it has come about at last, now that I am no longer a young keener, that I also have a single line of the psalms rolling slowly back and forth in my mind, again and again.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at thy altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.


ONE DAY, as we were asking a Carmelite sister to tell us how she made her prayer, her heart to heart with the Lord, she responded that, for thirty-five years, one phrase of the Gospel was enough for her, and she returned to it without ceasing. It seemed to her that drawing on another source would be to be unfaithful to her particular vocation, or at least to the attraction which the Lord had given to her for her time of mental prayer. It is very true that the interior life, more than a response to passing impulses, is chiefly an effort to persevere in the direction of a continuous line flowing from the first grace.

The phrase that our Carmelite was taking in this way was drawn from the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). The whole doctrine of salvation is contained in these few words: the divine paternity, the redemptive Incarnation, the role of faith, the drama of reprobation and the perspective of eternal happiness. The ancients gave a name to this verse of the Gospel of Saint John: they called it Evangelium in nuce, the Gospel in a nutshell.


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